New Flophouse Address:

You will find all the posts, comments, and reading lists (old and some new ones I just published) here:

Saturday, April 4, 2015

On the Path to Citizenship in Japan

What motivates a resident to become a citizen?

This is a decision so personal that a man or woman may spend years sorting through his deepest feelings to answer questions like:

Where is “home”? Where do I belong? What will I lose? How will this change my life?

I did not write today’s post. It was penned by one of my fellow Americans here in Japan who has done that thinking and has made his decision.

May it be of benefit to all of us who struggle with questions about identity, attachments, and allegiance.


On the Path to Citizenship in Japan

I have been in Japan now for about 20 years. I have been a permanent resident for the last 14, and am comfortably settled. So why change from permanent resident status to full citizenship status?

A Full Member of Society with Rights: The biggest motivation for requesting Japanese citizenship is simply that I want to be a citizen in my own home. I want the right to vote and all the concrete and fuzzy meanings that attach to being a full citizen. To me this seems a natural progression for an immigrant: if one intends to live somewhere for the rest of one’s life, why would one go out of their way to remain a foreigner? Why hold back? If you don’t want to be a full member of the society you live in, then why are you still living there?

Stability: I’m tired of being a foreigner. I want to be a real person. Some people may enjoy the role of being a foreigner, to be seen as exotic or different. But that is not something that I think most people can tolerate for their entire lives. At some point, a desire for stability and a yearning to just be a plain old person will assert itself in most immigrants. This leads them to go back where they came from, or else go all the way and seek citizenship.

Home: Sooner or later, one has to decide where one is going to call “home”. For me, it has been a gradual process of setting roots down here. I was recently asked if I ever planned to “go back,” and all I could think was: Go back to what? If I ever returned to any of the places where I used to live, most of the people I knew would be gone, and the places themselves would have changed. So it would not really be going back, but more like going to a new place again.

A Good Life: Also, of course, my life is all here: I have a family, a house, and pets. I have a good job with stimulating work that I look forward to continuing until I retire. After retirement, I hope to spend time on outdoor activities in the mountains of Japan for as long as I am able, and perhaps do more volunteer work than I have time for now. I also want to visit many parts of the country that I have not yet had a chance to see.

Letting Go: Japan does not allow dual citizenship, so I will have to relinquish US citizenship. This is not a decision to be taken lightly – I can’t just take Japanese citizenship and hang onto the US one as a “spare”. I have to make the decision, from the start, that I am willing to give up my US citizenship.

What do I give up by relinquishing my US passport?
  • I am giving up the right to vote in US Federal elections and the right to go live in the US without the fear of deportation. For someone who plans on living in the US someday, these would indeed be very valuable rights. I find it more valuable to have those rights here in Japan. 

  • The other thing I give up is the requirement to file tax returns with the US. Trying to understand and keep up with the complex, ever-changing rules that apply to American citizens abroad is certainly a challenge that I can do without. It’s not the taxes that I mind; it’s the complexity and fear of unreasonable fines.
But, in the end, the most important factor is that I cannot be both a US citizen and a Japanese citizen. Even if, for example, the US changed its crazy tax system to be less hostile to Americans abroad, my choice would be the same.

 I have to pick one or the other, and the one I have come to choose for the remaining stages of my life is Japanese citizenship.


Blaze said...

The route to citizenship is so different for so many people. I applied to become a Canadian citizen two days after I was eligible even though my. Canadian citizenship oath required me to renounce American citizenship (That requirement changed later that year) and even though U.S. consulate told me I was "permanently and irrevocably" relinquishing U.S. Citizenship.

I have personally never understood the concept of dual citizenship. To me, it is like a bigamous marriage. How can one be faithful to two spouses? But others have pointed out they are able to love two parents or several children.

A colleague who came to Canada as a draft dodger did not become a Canadian citizen until around 1995 when the U.S. Permitted him to have dual citizenship. I found it bizarre that he did not become a citizen of the country that may have literally saved his life while remaining loyal to the country that could have literally ended his life fighting in a war he did not believe in.

Another colleague and her husband had lived in Canada for 54 years before they became Canadian cittizens. I also never understood that because they would not have had to have given up their British citizenship to become Canadian citizens. She described her Canadian citizenship ceremony where people from 26 countries took the oath with her as one of the best days of her life. She died a couple years later, but voted in federal, provincial and municipal elections before she died.

Then, there is a frien's mother who never became a Canadian citizen even though she has been in Canada over 60 years because she plans to go "home" to Italy. She is almost 90 so a move "home" is unlikely. She also never learned to speak English or French.

井上エイド said...

Welcome to the club. (The following is a gratuitous plug) I run a website/blog that is written by ten editors, all of whom are from various English speaking nationalities and have naturalized to Japanese:

Additionally, if you'd like to see a interview of me on why I became a Japanese national, here it is:

This concludes this gratuitous plug. Thank you for your patience.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Blaze, Oh there are lots of reasons. I threw out a few in this post:

@井上エイド Plugs for interesting sites are ALWAYS welcome. And I found yours to be all that and more. I have not yet delved into citizenship issues here in Japan but I would like to. I think there are many rumours and misconceptions out there in the world about how Japanese citizenship works.

If you would like to enlighten folks, the Flophouse is yours. A post - a Japanese Citizenship 101 with links to the relevant articles on your blog would be very welcome.

Also, while I have you. I maintain an international migration and citizenship reading list. If you have any titles about migration and citizenship in Japan that you would recommend I read, I would be delighted to do so and add them to the list.

Inaka Nezumi said...

@ 井上エイド:

I've seen your site, and it's a gold mine. I've also looked at some Japanese sites, but they are usually aimed at zainichi Koreans, for whom the process is I think a bit easier, because most of the documents they need can be can be gotten here in Japan.

Thanks for the link to the video. It would be nice to hear more discussion from different people on their reasoning, to help one sort out one's own feelings on the subject.

井上エイド said...

Thanks for the kind words.

Regarding the "international migration and citizenship", I'll keep it in mind, but there's not a whole lot out there that is in English.

And the stuff that's in English, unfortunately, is often, well, wrong or very academic and dry and not practical.